Universal Brotherhood – April 1899

RICHARD WAGNER'S PROSE WORKS: II — Basil Crump

Vol. I — (Continued)

The latter portion of "Art and Revolution" is mainly devoted to a comparison of Greek with modern public art: "The public art of the Greeks, which reached its zenith in their tragedy, was the expression of the deepest and noblest principles of the people's consciousness. * * * To the Greeks the production of a tragedy was a religious festival, where the gods bestirred themselves upon the stage and bestowed on men their wisdom. * * * Where the Grecian artist found his only reward in his own delight in the masterpiece, in its success, and the public approbation; we have the modern artist boarded, lodged and — paid. And thus we reach the essential distinction between the two; with the Greeks their public art was very Art, with us it is artistic — Handicraft."

This question of the motive with which work is done is just the kernel of the whole matter. Each one of us is face to face with it every day of our lives. It lies within our power to raise the most insignificant duty to the level of an art, by doing it as well as we know how, for the sake of the good it may do, and without thought of advantage or disadvantage to ourselves. In a little devotional book of golden precepts, "Light on the Path," there is a note which runs: "The pure artist who works for the love of his work is sometimes more firmly planted on the right road than the occultist, who fancies he has removed his interest from self, but who has in reality only enlarged the limits of experience and desire, and transferred his interest to the things which concern his larger span of life." In this essay Wagner expresses precisely the same truth. He says that the true artist finds his joy and reward in the very process of creation, in the handling and moulding of his material; but the handicraftsman thinks only of the goal of his labor, the reward his work will bring, and hence his labor is joyless and wearisome. Thus he shows us that the slavery among the Greeks, which was the blot upon their civilization, was sin against his own human nature destined speedily to be avenged. Under the Roman Empire they learnt in deep humiliation that "when all men cannot be free alike and happyall men must suffer alike as slaves. The task we have before us is immeasurably greater than that already accomplished in days of old. If the Grecian art-work embraced the spirit of a fair and noble nation, the art-work of the future must embrace the spirit of a free mankind." So it is not a Greek revival that is urged, but the creation of a new and greater art based on a universal, not a limited, Brotherhood: "for what the Greeks knew not, and, knowing not, came to their downfall; that know we. It is their very fall, whose cause we now perceive after years of misery and deepest universal suffering, that shows us clearly what we should become; it shows us that we must love all men before we can rightly love ourselves, before we can regain true joy in our own personality. From the dishonoring slave-yoke of universal journeymanhood, with its sickly money-soul, we wish to soar to the free manhood of art, with the star-rays of its world-soul."

Some have imagined that Wagner was an advocate of Socialistic theories because of his constant insistence on the principle of Brotherhood. On the contrary he recognized therein a vital danger, a materialistic force which is a menace to true art; nothing less, in fact, than the raising of "man-degrading journeymanhood to an absolute and universal might. * * * In truth, this is the fear of many an honest friend of art and many an upright friend of men, whose only wish is to preserve the nobler core of our present civilization. But they mistake the true nature of the great social agitation. They are led astray by the windy theories of our socialistic doctrinaires, who would fain patch up an impossible compact with the present conditions of society;" and he points out that behind the cry of the most suffering portion of our social system there lies "a deeper, nobler, natural instinct; the instinct which demands a worthy taste of the joys of life, whose material sustenance shall no longer absorb man's whole life-forces in weary service, but in which he shall rejoice as man." This will be recognized when it is understood that "In the history of man nothing is made but everything evolves by its own inner necessity," and also "when mankind knows, at last, that itself is the one and only object of its existence, and that only in the community of all men can this purpose be fulfilled." In other words when mankind learns to live intuitionally in harmony with Nature's laws (e.g. cause and effect and brotherhood), instead of trying to mold outward conditions in accordance with intellectual theories. Many an earnest and unselfish worker in the "labor" or Socialistic field is already learning a bitter lesson; improved conditions, shorter hours, higher wages, have not altered human nature; on the contrary the effect in too many instances has been to encourage selfishness, laziness, and other vices. The effect has been tinkered with, but the cause has remained untouched. Wagner being a Mystic, saw behind the deceptive appearance, and recognized that only by teaching mankind to be more brotherly, and to develop the ideal artistic faculties as a balance to the purely intellectual, could any real improvement be brought about. Hence we can see the immense promise contained in the dramatic work now being organized by our Leader and also her training of little children on artistic lines before their intellects are brought into play. In these two branches of Brotherhood work the Leader of the Universal Brotherhood organization is carrying out the work of reform which Wagner and many another true friend of humanity have longed to see accomplished. For them only a part of the great work was possible, but now the time has come for unfolding and putting into action the whole grand scheme.

Before bringing this wonderfully powerful essay to a conclusion, Wagner launches a scathing indictment against the condition of the modern theatre. If the sting of suffering to each true artist of today has been that "he must squander his creative powers for gain, and make his art a handicraft," what must be the suffering of the dramatist "who would fain assemble every art within art's master-work, the drama? The sufferings of all other artists combined in one! What he creates, becomes an artwork only when it enters into open life; and a work of dramatic art can only enter life upon the stage. But what are our theatrical institutions of today (1849), with their disposal of the ample aid of every branch of art — industrial undertakings: yes, even when supported by a special subsidy from Prince or State. Their direction is mostly handed over to the same men who have yesterday conducted a speculation in grain, and tomorrow devote their well-learned knowledge to a 'corner' in. sugar. * * * For this reason it must be clear to all who have the slightest insight, that if the theatre is at all to answer to its natural lofty mission, it must be completely freed from the necessity of industrial speculation." And then Wagner goes on to explain how both State and Community should see to it that the theatre be so far supported that both the management and the artists shall be freed from all care of commercial considerations in the carrying out of their lofty mission. "The judge of their performance will be the free public. Yet, to make this public fully free and independent when face to face with art, one further step must be taken along this road; the public must have unbought admission to the theatrical representations." Furthermore the artists are to be recompensed "as a whole, and not in parts," thus doing away with that abomination of our modern stage, the "star artist."

Hence it will be seen that those who are to undertake the art-work of the future must be prepared to do so from the standpoint of unselfishness and brotherhood, without thought of personal glorification, but standing ever ready to take the smallest or the greatest part with the one object of helping to produce an ideal performance — perfect in its every detail — in order to teach the people how to live better, purer, and happier lives. "Then will theatrical performances be the first associate undertaking from which the idea of wage or gain shall disappear entirely. Art and its institutes, whose desired organization could here be only briefly touched on, would thus become the herald and standard of all future communal institutions. The spirit that urges a body of artists to

the attainment of its own true goal, would be found again in every other social union which set before itself a definite and honorable aim; for if we reach the right, then all our future social bearing cannot but be of pure artistic nature, such as alone befits the noble faculties of man.

"Thus would Jesus have shown us that we all alike are men and brothers; while Apollo would have stamped this mighty bond of brotherhood with the seal of strength and beauty, and led mankind from doubt of its own worth to consciousness of its highest godlike might."

(To be Continued.)


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